WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner today announced that $15.4 in loan and grant funds will be provided to business councils, economic development agencies and cooperatives in 15 states to spur business growth.

The funds are expected to create or save an estimated 4,700 jobs.

"Job creation and growth is a hallmark of our economic development efforts," said Conner. "These funds will directly assist small businesses in rural communities, creating opportunities for economic growth."

According to the Labor Department, the economy has created more than 1.7 million jobs over the past 12 months - and more than 5.7 million jobs since August 2003. The U.S. economy has now added jobs for 36 straight months and unemployment rate is 4.7 percent -- below the average of each of the past four decades.

The loans and grants announced today are being provided under the USDA Rural Development Rural Economic Development and Intermediary Relending programs. A total of 30 loans and grants will be provided to applicants in states including: Ala., Colo., Iowa, Ky., Miss., Mich., Mont., N.C., N.H., Okla., S.C., S.D., Texas, Wash., and Wis. A complete list of the loan recipients is available online.

Loans totaling $1.5 million are being provided to recipients in Montana. Headwaters RC&D Area, Inc. of Butte will receive $750,000 to assist businesses located across a seven county area. Funding support will create 84 jobs and save 13. The city of Kalispell will receive $750,000 to assist five businesses located within the city limits. A total of 104 jobs will be created or saved. In Washington State, Shorebank Enterprise Pacific will receive a $750,000 loan to provide assistance in six counties in Washington and one in Oregon, creating or saving 300 jobs.

The Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program provides zero-interest loans and grants to Rural Development utility program borrowers, who in turn relend the money as a zero interest loan to local entities to promote rural economic development and job creation projects. The Intermediary Relending Program finances business facilities and community development projects in rural areas through loans to intermediaries. Intermediaries re-lend funds to ultimate recipients for business facilities or community development. A complete list of the loan recipients is available online.

USDA Rural Development's mission is to increase economic opportunity and improve the quality of life in rural communities.

SOURCE: USDA news release.